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The Five Gynaecological Cancers

Cancers that start in any part of a woman's reproductive system are called Gynaecological cancers. There are five of them.

Endometrial cancer - also called Uterine cancer or Womb cancer

Ovarian cancer

Cervical cancer

Vulvar cancer

Vaginal cancer

What is Endometrial cancer?

Endometrial cancer is the most common type of gynaecological cancer, it is also known as uterine or womb cancer. It begins in the lining of the uterus, which is a pear-shaped, hollow organ. The uterus is made up of the body of the organ and the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. When a woman is pregnant, the fetus grows inside the uterus.

The most common symptom of endometrial cancer is abnormal or unexplained bleeding from the vagina, especially in women who have stopped having periods. It is important to note that this may be caused by conditions other than cancer, however women experiencing abnormal bleeding should seek medical attention immediately.

The most common treatment option for endometrial cancer is surgery which may include a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix). Depending on the extent of the disease, a radical hysterectomy may be done to remove the uterus, cervix, the upper part of the vagina and often the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

What is Ovarian cancer?

A woman has two ovaries and two fallopian tubes, one of each on either side of the uterus. Ovaries produce eggs and the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the ovaries begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way and eventually form a tumour.

Ovarian cancer can be hard to detect as the symptoms are similar to other common conditions. This means that it is often picked up late by which time the disease has often spread and is more difficult to treat and can be fatal. Fortunately, if it is detected early, it can be treated successfully before it gets to this stage. Women should pay attention to their bodies for any unusual changes and seek medical attention immediately.

Ovarian cancer is treated with surgery often combined with other treatment types, including chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy and radiation therapy. Surgery usually includes removal of the uterus, both ovaries and the fallopian tubes. The surgeon tries to remove as much of the tumor as possible in a process called debulking.

What is Cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the neck of the womb. The neck of the womb is called the cervix. The good news is that cervical cancer is preventable through vaccination and screening. The main risk factor for cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and both men and women can have the virus; infact most men and women who are sexually active or have been in the past have had an HPV infection at one point or the other without knowing. HPV has no signs or symptoms. Some strains of HPV are also responsible for other types of cancers including penile cancer in men, oral cancer, anal cancer, e.t.c

Early-stage cervical cancer is often treated with radiation therapy or surgery. Treatment for late-stage cervical cancer may include chemoradiation, a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease, yet it is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in Nigeria.

What is Vulvar cancer?

Vulvar cancer forms in the vulvar, the outer part of a woman’s genitals. This type of cancer is very rare however, it still happens and we need to learn about it. This rare cancer can develop slowly, with few early symptoms. Symptoms may include a lasting itch or pain or soreness of the vulva or an open sore/growth visible on the skin. It is important that women pay attention to their bodies for any unusual changes and report such changes to a doctor as soon as possible.

Most vulvar cancers begin in squamous cells, the main type of skin cells but adenocarcinoma, melanoma, sarcoma and basal cell carcinoma can also appear on the vulvar. Many cases of vulvar cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).

What is Vaginal cancer?

This is the most rare of the gynaecological cancers. Symptoms may include bleeding when you are not having a period or bleeding after menopause. Another symptom may be a lump or growth in the vagina. Doctors often combine external beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy to treat vaginal cancer. Surgery and chemotherapy are additional treatment options.

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